Watch the Sun Split Apart

Canyon of Fire on the Sun, Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA)

Here’s your amazing oh-my-gosh-space-is-so-cool video of the day — a “canyon of fire” forming on the Sun after the liftoff and detachment of an enormous filament on September 29-30. A new video, created from images captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and assembled by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, shows the entire dramatic event unfolding in all its mesmerizing magnetic glory.

Watch it below:

Solarrific! (And I highly suggest full-screening it in HD.) That filament was 200,000 miles long, and the rift that formed afterwards was well over a dozen Earths wide!

Captured in various wavelengths of light by SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) the video shows the solar schism in different layers of the Sun’s corona, which varies greatly in temperature at different altitudes.

According to the description from Karen Fox at GSFC:

“The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun’s magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious.”

Now, there’s not really any “fire” on the Sun — that’s just an illustrative term. What we’re actually seeing here is plasma contained by powerful magnetic fields that constantly twist and churn across the Sun’s surface and well up from its interior. The Sun is boiling with magnetic fields, and when particularly large ones erupt from deep below its surface we get the features we see as sunspots, filaments, and prominences.

When those fields break, the plasma they contained gets blasted out into space as coronal mass ejections… and this is what typically happens when one hits Earth. (But it could be much worse.)

Hey, that’s what it’s like living with a star!

Stay up to date on the latest solar events on the SDO mission page here.

NASA Trailer Achieves Crowdfunding Goal to Run Before Star Trek: Into Darkness

Here’s one bit of NASA outreach that won’t be affected by suspensions or sequesters: an edited version of “We Are The Explorers,” a video highlighting the past successes and future goals of the space administration — created by NASA and featuring an inspiring narration by Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen — will be screened in several major U.S. cities during the premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness thanks to an overwhelmingly successful crowdfunding effort on

Now that the initial goal of $33,000 has been met and the 30-second ad spot can be purchased, the team responsible for the campaign (Aerospace Industries Association of America) will use any funds donated during the next 29 days to reach its next target: getting the ad in at least one theater in every state in America for two weeks. In order for that to happen, a grand total of $94,000 will need to be reached.

Want to help make it so? Find out more about how you can contribute:

According to the Indiegogo campaign page, “If we raise our funding total to $94,000, students, young people, and the general public will see this video from coast to coast. This new goal will expand our reach from 59 movie theater screens to 750 screens!”

That means a lot more chances that the spot will run at the theater where you go to see the new Star Trek film when it comes out on May 17. (Because you know you’re going to go see it, let’s be honest. It’s Star Trek.)

And because it’s Indiegogo you’ll get a “perk” depending on the amount you contribute, ranging from digital copies of the final spot to DVD copies of the excellent HBO series “From Earth to the Moon” (while supplies last.) Because the initial goal has been met, some perks are already sold out… but then, contributing to something as important as space exploration isn’t about the stuff you get, it’s about the message you can give.

“This is more than a fundraiser, it’s a demonstration of support for space exploration programs. By donating to this campaign, you’re making a very powerful statement about the widespread enthusiam that exists for space programs. A crowdfunding campaign is the best vehicle to deliver this message. By reaching our goal, we not only enable a first-of-its-kind ad campaign, we also demonstrate that countless people support a strong space program that’s in development.”

You can contribute here, and be sure to spread the word too. That way, when you’re looking at the video on the big screen, when you see them putting Al Shepard’s gloves on, when you see the fiery exhaust of the Saturn rocket and you hear Cullen’s voice rumble “we are the explorers,” you can know that you helped make it happen — and that somewhere in that same theater a young mind may very well be inspired to continue the exploration.

Maybe that mind might even be be your own.

“Our next destination awaits. We don’t know what new discoveries lie ahead, but this is the very reason we must go.

This crowdfunding campaign is the work of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) of America. This campaign is not endorsed by NASA nor is it conducted at their direction or request. Note: by donating you acknowledge that donations are not tax deductible.

A Mardi Gras Moon Crossing

SDO AIA image of the Sun and Moon at 14:11 UT on Feb. 21, 2012


The Sun seems to be glowing in traditional Mardi Gras colors in this image, made from three AIA channels taken today at approximately 14:11 UT (about 9:11 a.m. EST) as the Moon passed between it and the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. Looks like it’s that time of year again!

During portions of the year, the Moon transits the Sun on a regular basis from the perspective of NASA’s SDO spacecraft, which lies within the Moon’s orbit. When this happens we are treated to an improvised eclipse… and it gives SDO engineers a way to fine-tune the observatory’s calibration as well.

Here are more AIA views of the same event captured in different wavelengths:

Lunar transit on 2-21-12; AIA 304
Lunar transit on 2-21-12; AIA 193
Lunar transit on 2-21-12; AIA 4500

…and here’s an interesting image taken in HMI Dopplergram:

HMI Dopplergram image of transit

While the AIA (Atmospheric Imaging Assembly) images the Sun in light sensitive to different layers of its atmosphere, the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) studies oscillations in the Sun’s magnetic field at the surface layer.

Watch a video of the path of this lunar transit, posted by the SDO team here.

And if you happen to be reading this as of the time of this writing (appx. 10:06 a.m. EST) you can keep up with the latest images coming in on the SDO site at

It’s Mardi Gras and the Moon doesn’t want to miss out on any of the fun!

Images courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams. Hat-tip to Mr. Stu Atkinson who called the AIA alert on Twitter.